ALBUQUERQUE — Some of the elevators that take visitors at Carlsbad Caverns National Park down to the caves are still out of service, just one of many projects caught in the National Park Service’s nearly $12 billion backlog of maintenance needs.
Carlsbad Caverns alone estimates its backlog tops $44 million, half of which is needed to repair two passenger elevators and two smaller freight elevators that were built in the 1950s and 1930s, The Albuquerque Journal reported. Two freight elevators are being used to take visitors into the caverns.
The two passenger elevators and one freight elevator broke down in the fall of 2015 and remained out of service for six months. The fourth elevator was reserved for emergencies during this time. After the park fixed the one broken-down freight elevator, rangers put both freight elevators back in service to take visitors up and down. They hold eight people each; the still out-of-service passenger elevators hold 16 people apiece.
With limited elevator space, park visitors have to enter at the cave’s mouth and walk the dark, winding trail 750 feet into the Big Room and hike all the way back again to return. The in-and-out hike is estimated to take more than two hours. The elevators, on the other hand, deposit visitors right at the bottom.
Park spokeswoman Valerie Gohlke estimates the elevator outage lowered visits by about 11 percent since they went out in fall 2015, though overall visitation is higher year-over-year than in 2015.
Gohlke said the passenger elevator repairs could take until 2018 to complete. The freight elevator will not be repaired until after the passenger elevators.
In all, the National Park Service has a backlog of nearly $12 billion worth of maintenance works. In New Mexico alone, parks need more than $202 million worth of work.
Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the appropriations subcommittee that sets the budget for the Interior Department and park service, said he has pushed to secure $4 million for the elevator repairs.
“The elevator outage has caused problems for visitors, and it’s understandable that small business owners and others in the community are concerned that the elevator outage will keep people from visiting Carlsbad,” he said in an emailed statement.